Makepeace is 12 years old and has the ability to harbour ghosts within her body. The problem is, she doesn't know it. It's a secret her mother has been keeping from her throughout her life.
When she's separated from her mother, she inadvertently inherits the spirit of a recently deceased bear. It is wild and angry, hungry and confused and it's in her brain and trying to control her body.
After a series of devastating events, Makepeace is sent to live with her father's ancestors. They are a strange group of people who have secret powers. They see Makepeace as a troublesome girl with only one use, a use that won't be revealed to Makepeace until much later therefore I won't spoil it here.
What Makepeace does know is that she needs to escape the clutches of these people. What follows is an epic adventure where Makepeace must befriend ghosts and those of the living whom she doesn't really trust. The country is engaged in a civil war, it's the 17th century and Makepeace must gather every ally she can if she is going to survive.
I really loved this novel, there are multiple plot twists and side adventures to keep readers of fantasy fiction with some history thrown in engaged for hours. Makepeace and Bear are an unlikely yet amazing duo, and with each turn for the weird, I was on board.
You'll really fall in love with Makepeace and be rooting for her every step of the way, she is defiant, brave, clever and cunning, yet she is honest and honourable throughout. The villains in this tale are many, and they are truly evil and disturbing. Makepeace's father's ancestors are about as dastardly and dark as they get, they have harnessed a power that has made them mad-drunk and desperate at the same time. They will stop at nothing to secure their name in the history books, this makes them very dangerous, as many characters in the novel find out the hard way.
Another triumph from Frances Hardinge, I really recommend it!
Lily lives in a perpetual nightmare. The bullying she faces in and outside of school is horrific.
The bullies take photos of her, attack her and call her names like pig, fatty and much, much worse.
Lily's mum is morbidly obese and hasn't left the house in years out of fear and embarrassment. She's dealing with her own family trauma, her brother Ray is a cop, but not a cop you can really trust at all.
Lily's dad works long nights at a tough job to keep things together at home. He's furious at those who are destroying Lily's life, but feels powerless to do anything about it. Meanwhile, Lily is spinning into a pit of despair.
Then, her father has an idea, he brings out his old boxing equipment and starts to show her some moves. At first she thinks it's a ridiculous idea but when she gets to imagine she's punching the faces of the people that hurt her, her attitude changes. This leads Lily to a boxing gym, I don't want to spoil any more of this novel because it's so amazing you should read it yourself.
Gloves Off is told in verse and alternates between Lily's perspective and occasionally her mother's. It's a very powerful look at fat shaming and the consequences that it has. Fat shaming is often overlooked as a "real" bullying issue, primarily based on the ridiculous claim that it will help the person being bullied to lose weight.
It's known that high school students who believe themselves to be overweight or obese are more likely to suffer depression and attempt suicide. (source)
There are other issues at play here as well. Lily's family can't afford to eat healthy. A report submitted in Sept 2018 by The Food Foundation showed that 3.7 million children in the UK live in households that earn less than £15,860 / year and are unable to afford the diet that is recommended by the government in order to stay healthy.
As a School Librarian, I haven't really come across a novel that packs this much punch (pun intended). It's an important story that needs to be told. It's not just the message that rings home, the story is beautifully told. It's raw at times and so heartbreaking you'll need to read it in private unless you don't want to be blubbering mess in front of strangers.
I can't recommend Gloves Off enough, it's published in August 2019, go get it.
It's 1984 & Jo Kwan has just moved with her family to Coventry, UK to start a new life. However, it's not the life Jo had imagined for herself. She's going to live above the Chinese takeaway that her family owns and operates. She hasn't seen her older brother Simon for a few years because he was sent to live with their grandparents for reasons that are unknown to Jo. She has a younger sister Bonny who has taken to smoking and stealing money from the cash register in the shop. Jo also takes money but only when she really, really needs it.
Jo's mother speaks little to no English, her father speaks both English and Chinese but rarely speaks. Throw in the fact that Jo and her sister can't understand Chinese and it makes for a very interesting family dynamic.
Chinglish is told through Jo's diary entries and doodles. The story track's Jo's attempts to fit in at school and how she experiences casual and not so casual racism from both children and adults in her neighbourhood. Jo starts her diary by saying she is only going to include the nice memories. As the diary continues, more and more of the "bad stuff" creeps in, and man oh man there is a lot of bad stuff. I wanted to jump into this novel on several occasions and take Jo and her sister as far away from her parents as possible, more on that later.
There are some genuinely hilarious moments in this novel which are always tinged with sadness. Jo never receives Christmas or birthday presents from her family, yet she's convinced that she did receive a chair shaped like a teddy bear when she was six years old. There's no evidence of the chair existing and her parents don't acknowledge that the chair was ever purchased. It's one of those moments that slowly burns inside your brain, it's terribly sad but I had to laugh at it because Jo has to ask herself if she's going insane, why would her parents decide to lie to her about buying a teddy bear chair? Who does something like that?
Then there are the animal stories, many of which can be considered animal cruelty, which Jo fully recognises. I won't spoil any of them but one of them involves goats and again, made me laugh out loud and then wonder if I should be laughing but it's so tragic and bizarre that I just couldn't help it.
Jo becomes needed more and more in the takeaway, and she has to experience real problems in there. Racist customers, drunk customers, customers who demand refunds and many other issues. Her school work slips, she starts taking more and more time off because of her life is simply spiralling out of control. Her father becomes increasingly sullen, despondent and abusive. As we learn more and more about his past (the little that Jo can piece together) Jo begins her quest to remove herself from the family. With the help of her friend Tina, she starts to trust herself and have a little self confidence, especially when it comes to her only respite: art. Jo's love of art transcends the absolute madness that is her home life.
I really loved this story, it's hilarious and really heart breaking at the same time. Jo's life is completely unique and fascinating, it's like watching a car crash over and over again. You will definitely feel for her and her family, it's a story of tragedy, abuse, neglect and hope. I think it's amazing and can't wait for it to come out in September.
Set a few years after the U.S. presidential election, Internment is the story of Layla Amin, a 17 year old Muslim American. Layla can't go to school and, like all Muslims in America, live under a strict curfew. Her father has lost his job and his mother's career is taking a nose dive. People are burning books in town centres that are written by or are sympathetic to Muslims.
Then, the inevitable happens. Her and her family are rounded up and thrown into an Internment camp for other Muslims.
Almost immediately, and despite constant surveillance, Layla starts to plot ways to get her and her family out of this nightmare.
While at the camp, she meets other sympathetic teens and together the wheels of revolution start to turn. I loved that it was the teens that ignite the rebellion in the camp, I feel this is a very accurate portrayal. Sure they act recklessly sometimes, but no revolution was successful without a little recklessness.
Desperate to make contact with David, her boyfriend on the outside, Layla finds friends in surprising areas of the camp to help her achieve this goal.
Once people start to disappear, and rumours of torture start swirling around the camp, Layla and her friends must make a choice: are they going to go through with their plan? Do they have what it takes to potentially endure torture? It's clear that their parents aren't going to stand up against the guards and the evil Director, so the choice must be made.
I really loved Internment, it focuses on what Muslims are experiencing in the modern world. It is a call to action and educates readers on the power of subtle and not so subtle racist terminology. I'm really excited to get this into the hands of the students I work with, highly recommend it!
Maxwell is always in trouble. He can't seem to help himself, his best friend is his dog Monster (equally troublesome) and together they make great partners in crime.
Maxwell's parents are constantly fighting, something that makes he and his sister miserable. His only respite comes from visiting his elderly neighbour, how never seems to remember who Maxwell is.
When Maxwell pulls a terrible prank at school, he runs to his neighbour's house and, while messing around with a cabinet filled with strange antiques, wishes that he'd never existed, something strange happens. His entire world is thrown upside down, nobody knows him. Not his parents, his sister, his teachers, not even his friend Charlie at school. At first, he's happy, nobody knows him, no more fighting at home, no more getting in trouble, he can start from scratch. Then he realises that in this parallel universe he didn't save his dog from getting hit by a car and he's lost his best friend.
Desperate to get back, Maxwell must piece together clues as to how he got here in the first place. Only then can he return to his normal life and redeem his past behaviour.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, it's a fast paced read with lots of humour and a great message behind it. Maxwell is a trouble maker but also a likeable character once he starts clamouring to return to his normal life. The novel deals with family issues and even dementia in a respectful and interesting way. Fans of Lisa's other novels will really love this!
Susan is new to Canada and lives with her mother in Ontario. She's not used to the cultural freedoms in this new country, she's used to live in Saudi Arabia. Susan is reserved, wary of boys and determined not to get her driving license. Susan is very bright and her parents have high expectations of her. They want her to be a doctor although in secret she wants to be an artist.
Her father is still in Saudi Arabia, making excuses as to why he can't join them in Canada. As her fear about her parents' relationship grows, Susan decides to bury herself in her studies.
Then she meets Malcolm, a brooding, somewhat troubled teen. Malcolm's mother died of cancer, previous to this he found out his father was having an affair. This drove Malcolm to drink and use drugs on a regular basis. The abuse he experienced at the hands of his father didn't help. Now, though, he's trying to get on the straight and narrow. Fresh off of a hard breakup, Malcolm isn't sure what he wants anymore.
When he meets Susan, Malcolm knows he's found someone truly unique. Their friendship grows and soon becomes something bigger. Malcolm breaks through Susan's protective barriers and gets her to act out in ways she's never experienced before, skipping school for one.
As they begin to feel deeper feelings, people from Malcolm's past begin to haunt him and disrupt their relationship.
Told from Susan and Malcolm's perspective, The Beauty of the Moment is a very nuanced look at teen life. The characters posses a moral duality that is present in everyone but hyper realised in teens in my opinion. Susan's overbearing parents aren't one dimensional, they waver, they try to see things from Susan's perspective and they sometimes admit when they are wrong, just like a lot of parents.
Malcolm's relationship with his sister is heart warming and one that I really enjoyed reading about. His father is a silently brooding character that is the focus of Malcolm's rage. This dynamic really packs a punch and makes for intense reading.
The Beauty of the Moment is a brilliant sophomore novel from Tanaz Bhathena. Fans of John Green, Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and Jennifer Niven will love this story.
Kay Donovan & her friends are the most popular students at an elite private school. They run the place, they control the social atmosphere that is more important to most than grades.
One evening, after a party, they find a dead girl floating in a lake by the school. None of them claim to know her, she was a student at their school but she wasn't high up enough on the pecking order to be important to them.
However when Kay receives a coded scavenger hunt from the dead girl, her life becomes very complicated. She's plunged headfirst into a dangerous game where she must stab her friends in the back otherwise be framed for the murder. As the noose tightens, and the police begin to close in, Kay begins to unravel, and what is real and what is not becomes blurred.
I really enjoyed People Like Us, Kay is a great character, she has several flaws and can be very unlikeable but I never stopped rooting for her. She has a melancholic yet determined nature that keeps her chugging along in the face of obstacle after obstacle. At the Library that I manage, students can't get enough of school-based mysteries so I know this novel will be extremely popular.
I recommend it for ages 14 and up!
Two high school students take the same bus everyday but they've never actually met. Then one day, one of the teens, Richard, takes it upon himself to act recklessly and lights the other students' skirt on fire. Sasha suffers 3rd degree burns and has their life forever altered.
Richard is charged with hate crimes & faces a life behind bars. Both teens are forced to be in the spotlight as the press descends on them and their families.
The strangest part? It's all true. The 57 Bus is a fascinating look at two people who are brought together because of a horrible event. I could not put this book down, I needed to know what was going to happen to Richard & reading about Sasha's recovery was painful and heart breaking. It's an important book about tolerance, violence and recovery. I have organised it so that all of our Year 9 students (over 250 of them) will be reading The 57 Bus in the new year as I know it will generate a lot of discussion. Do not miss out on this amazing story. Recommended for ages 13 and up!
Felix Knuttson lives with his mum Astrid in a VW Westfalia van in Vancouver. They are part of the hidden homeless, people who become homeless but stay with other people, live in automobiles or other places they can find. In short, they aren't living on the sidewalk...yet.
Felix is desperate to keep this secret hidden from his friends at school. Astrid has issues with authority and can't keep a job held down for more than a few weeks. She resorts to shoplifting, something she tries to brush off as a necessity but it's not for Felix. For him things are as bad as they seem. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the new game show that's in town for kids. It's a trivia show and the winner will receive $25,000. That money would get Felix and his mum off the street and into a place of their own. But as the tension mounts, and the teachers and friends start to suspect something's up with Felix's living arrangements, the likelihood of Astrid not being reported to social services gets smaller and smaller.
No Fixed Address is in my opinion Susin Nielsen's best work yet. It's hilarious, sad and has a cast of amazing characters. Felix is an adorable 12 year old with a knack for trivia. He's tough yet sensitive at the same time. His mother is someone who will cause debate for a long time after you've read it. Astrid lives by her own moral code, she wants Felix to call her by her first name, she encourages him to shoplift and she doesn't expect him to follow all of societies' unspoken rules. At the same time you know from the start that she loves Felix more than anything and would jump in front of a bullet for him without hesitation. Together they make a really interesting duo. Felix's friend Winnie starts off as a know-it-all nuisance but soon grows on Felix and I found myself liking her more and more as she begins to bond with Felix and defend him throughout the latter half of the novel.
It's a book that will spark a lot of discussion about parenting, survival and how we treat those on the fringes of what we consider "normal" society.
I loved every page of it and I know our students are going to really eat this one up, can't wait to promote it to them. I recommend it for ages 11 and up!
Kasia is a house-bound teen. Suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), she can't go down the stairs without feeling completely wiped out let alone go to school, meet friends and lead an average teenage life.
She spends her days in her room, listening to podcasts and audio books, doing homework and watching the world from her window.
Across the street and number 48, she swears she sees a figure in the window of a young girl. This seems strange to Kasia because she never sees her leave the house. Then one evening a car pulls up on her street, a man exits the vehicle and drags a screaming girl into it before stepping on the pedal and driving off.
Kasia is shocked and phones the police. Across the street, she sees the shadow of the girl in the window, watching everything unfold.
The police have nothing to go on. No one else has reported a missing person and there's no other witnesses. Kasia knows there is another witness but the police tell her that a young girl doesn't live across the street.
Is Kasia losing her mind? Has she been cooped up in her room for too long?
Kasia makes a new friend when a boy named Nav and his mum move in on the street to make amends with Nav's grandmother. Nav is sympathetic to Kasia and her medical condition, when many teens her age are not. Together, Nav and Kasia try to piece together the mystery of the shadowy girl in the window next door and the abduction that Kasia swore she saw. I won't spoil the novel any further, you'll have to read it!
Peny Joelson's writing is fast paced and concise which is what I love in a YA novel. It's also informative without delving into the info-dump that many authors fall victim to. I learned a lot about ME reading this book and I never once felt like i was being dictated to. I've only met one person in my life with ME and only briefly so I was interested in learning more. The frustration that Kasia feels when people in her school don't really believe her that she suffers from a real medical condition and is just trying to get out of school is tough and I can't imagine how that feels.
Girl in the Window covers some tough issues but I wouldn't hesitate to give this to a twelve year old student at Glenthorne. I really loved it, fans of mystery thrillers and even books like Everything, Everything will be wanting to read more from Penny!